Making Hay
Week of January 25th, 2004 | The weather was very cold.

Early 1900's steam engine tractor.

Early 1900's steam engine tractor.

Hi! It was very cold out this past week. I was reading about tractors the other day and found it interesting about how they have changed over the years.

The picture to the right was taken in North Dakota about 80-100 years ago. It took three farmers to plow. Today, only one person is needed and in the future, tractors could be robots and may require only one person in the house controlling the tractor on a computer. Instead of a farm tractor that is running on diesel fuel, the tractor in the picture is a steam engine. Fashioned from the power plants used on trains, this tractor had boilers and uses steam for power. It was first used in the 1870's. They developed a lot of horsepower. It could pull up to 40 plows. The steam engine tractors were not very practical. It could take hours just to have the water boiled! The engine ran very slow, too. Here is how it works:

The steam enters the cylinder. Then, it pushes the piston, which pushes the flywheel half a turn. The flywheel runs the axles, belt, etc. The steam turns into exhaust. It goes up and into the exhaust pipe and leaves the cylinder. As the flywheel made its half turn, it pushes the slide valve to the left. This makes the steam enter into the cylinder to the right. It pushes the piston back to the left and leaves as exhaust, but this time going up on the left side. This operation makes the flywheel complete the full turn. It goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

The steam engine and plow, above, probably went about 2-3 miles an hour. It plowed eight furrows at a time. Today, we can plow four furrows at a time going about 5 miles per hour. Steam engines were very heavy- they had a lot of traction. A 100-horse power steam engine weighed about 70,000 pounds! Today, a 100-horse power tractor weighs about 11,000 pounds.

Steam engines started to fade out in 1910. Fields were soaked by rain at a plow match that year. Steam engines got stuck and the first gas powered tractors pulled them out. Horses started to fade out in the 1930's when tractors started having rubber tires and do more work. Gas powered tractors was a major change in American agriculture. The birthplace of tractor factories was not far from where I live- Charles City, Iowa. There, many tractors were built, including Oliver and White. In 1993, the large tractor factory was torn down. It was the last ductile iron foundry in North America.

Tractors have been improved for about a hundred years now. They have changed in shape, size, features, price, and much more. I learned a lot while researching about tractors.

Farm Fact: The first tractor on our farm (that our family owned) was a 1945 Farmall H. (The Farmall is in the above picture which was taken sometime around 1952. My uncle, Wayne, is sitting on the operator's seat.) During World War II, very few tractors were built because the factories built tanks and jeeps to support the war, instead. In Alta Vista, there was a lottery giving away the opportunity to buy a brand new Farmall H. My grandfather won the lottery and bought the tractor for full retail price ($1100). The Farmall H ran on our farm until 1972.

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